Oh the places that I’ve lived: Pau, France
Like most locals, I know of certain places in my town that your average tourist doesn’t know about. However, there is a credo between native inhabitants to not reveal these “secret” places to the outside world. The fear is that travelers will corrupt the store, bar, leisure site, etc. in their never-ending quest to take pictures of themselves in front of monuments. In my hometown of Langley, Washington there was actually a saying that went “If it is tourist season, why can’t we shoot them?” Not politically correct by any means, but this sentiment reflects the feelings of local inhabitants frustrated with inconsiderate and obnoxious tourists. However, as an experienced (and respectful) traveler I feel bound to the ways of the road, so I am going to spill the beans on the places less frequented in many of the towns I’ve called “home”. Use this information with care and be polite to the native inhabitants whenever possible. They only bite when provoked.
Currently I reside in the south of France in a town called Pau. Pau is the capital of the Pyrénées Atlantique and is situated 36 kilometers from the border to Spain between Toulouse and the Cote Basque (Bayonne, Biarritz). On clear days, the snow-capped Pyrénées glisten in the distance, inviting travelers to taste a bit of Spain. The town has a strong English influence because it was once a hot British vacation destination. The mixture of English traditions and French fashion makes this cozy town a conglomeration worth visiting.
The Centre Ville is where most of the action is at and it is situated around the Place Clemenceau. On one side of the place you will find a wide variety of shopping options: Les Galleries and the shops that line the Rue Serviez. There are also many places around Clemenceau to sip a coffee at one of France’s famous sidewalk cafés. However, for those who are looking for something a little different then Bois, Tons, Thés (3, rue Valéry Meunier – right off Clemenceau, across from the Foot Locker) may be more your style. Decorated with old etchings and a mix-matched conglomeration of chairs and tables this salon de thé offers a wide variety of teas that are modestly priced between 2 euros and 5 euros per pot. They also serve delicately prepared coffees and espressos for those who are, like me, addicted to various types o’ joe. To top things off, Bois, Tons, Thés has a delectable array of tasty treats like scones, tarts, and cakes that will make even the staunchest health food eater succumb to their sweet tooth. All are served with a rich side of chantilly that will make your mouth water in anticipation.
For those of you who see France as one large créperie, I suggest visiting the Fleur de Blé in Les Halles (the covered fresh food market in the Place de la République). Situated between stall after stall of crémeries, fromageries, botchères, fresh vegetables, Fluer de Blé offers the best crêpes for the best price in town (starting at 1 euro for a plan crêpe with butter). If you are feeling a little less conventional then try one of their galettes. Made with whole flour instead of white, these crêpe-like pancakes are served with any combination of eggs, cheese, ham, sausage, or (gulp) intestines that you want. However, beware of the cider. It is hard and if you are visiting first thing in the morning, it may give you an alcoholic buzz you weren’t planning on.
Next to Les Halles is a marché (open air market) which buzzes with locals looking for deals on clothes, shoes, and books. Though the quality varies greatly, every once and awhile there is a good deal to be found on the many tables that cram into this spot daily. Make sure you get there early too. Les Halles and the marché next to it are open in the mornings, but generally close down around 2pm.
For cinéphiles who feel that France is a purgatory of dubbing, then you might want to check out Le Méliès (6, rue Bargoin; 08 92 68 68 87). Named after the “grandfather of special effects” – French director George Méliès – the cinema is situated in an old church and plays almost all of its movies in their original language with French subtitles (exceptions are the occasional children’s film which is dubbed into version franï¿½ais). The theater also shows older films; recent screenings have included the restored edition of The General with Buster Keaton and Cheyenne Autumn directed by John Ford. Tickets are 5,40 euros or 4,30 euros with a student card.
Once the sun sets, many head to the Boulevard des Pyrénées to walk up and down its bustling array of foreign-themed bars. The boulevard is the place to see and be seen, but it is hard on one’s wallet. A pitcher of Fosters at one of the Australian-themed bars will set you back 14 euros. For those on a budget and also those who are looking for a more local hangout, La Garage is the place for you (corner of rue Arribes and rue Langles). The bar is a hotspot for English-speaking exchange students and French who want to improve their English. The decor reflects road life and includes various parts of cars that double as decoration. La Garage also serves dinner with most plates coming between 5 and 10 euro. I recommend the assiette de garage. It is an interesting combination of French fries, salad, bacon, eggs and a salsa-like tomato side which is surprisingly good.
For those making a day trip out of Pau, keep in mind that it, like many French towns, is pretty much closed on Sunday. So unless you are planning to go to one of many church services in town, Sunday may not be the best day to visit.
For more information on Pau call or visit the Office de Tourisme (Place Royal; 05 59 27 27 08).